The Making of a Classic Flap

  1. From Rex Features, Photos by Paul Cooper.

  2. Factory production of Chanels

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  6. The original Rex Features article accompanying the photos:


    It is a fashion rarity for one item to retain its must-have status for a decade, let alone half a century, but the Chanel 2.55 handbag has reached its 50th birthday this month with its all-important desirability intact.

    Designed by the fashion brand's founder, Coco Chanel, in February 1955 (hence the handbag's name), the 2.55 may have fallen in and out of favour over the years but in 2005 it is firmly lodged in the upper echelons of the fashion world's consciousness.

    To mark the legendary bag's birthday, Chanel's chief designer Karl Lagerfeld has created a special edition of the classic that is sure to become one of the most in-demand items of the season. The special edition lacquer-red leather handbag will be limited to numbers that fall well short of the length of its waiting lists, thus retaining its exclusivity.

    At £860, the 2.55 is priced way beyond the accepted maximum for the average consumer, but there is no shortage of wealthy customers eager to get their hands on one, especially as it is one of the few handbags that is guaranteed to outlast most of its rivals.

    Chanel's designs have long been regarded the epitome of tasteful chic, but the fashion house is currently enjoying its most high-profile period in many years. Pop superstar Kylie Minogue has forged a mutually successful relationship with Chanel over the last two years, and as she collected a Lifetime Achievement honour at the Elle Style Awards earlier this month the Aussie singer was dressed head-to-toe in the label.

    Supermodel Kate Moss is a fan of the classic 2.55, and models Laura Bailey, Sophie Dahl and Jodie Kidd are all proud owners of the handbag in its various sizes and materials. Such celebrity endorsement is helpful for any fashion item, but where famous names come and go, the 2.55 has never gone away.

    The bag's continued success is not just a result of the approval of the fashion world's movers and shakers - much of its enduring appeal is down to the expert craftsmanship that goes into each individual edition, and the simple but popular features of its design.

    The 2.55 is manufactured at a factory in the Parisian suburb of Verneuil, where 180 operations are required to complete the bag from start to finish. The factory, housed in a distinctive glass cuboid building, is staffed by super-efficient and highly experienced workers, who take two-and-a-half hours to produce one 2.55. And with just 12 being finished each day, it becomes easier to understand the product's sky-high price tag.

    Outsiders are rarely allowed to take a look inside the factory and witness the production of Chanel's luxury goods, but lately the carefully guarded workplace has become slightly more open to visitors.

    "It's very new for us to have visitors here," says Bruno Tippe, the factory's production manager who heads up a skilled staff of 350. "Chanel, who was very private, was strict about that."

    The first stage in creating the handbag is cutting and flattening the raw materials, Italian lambskin for the lining and sheepskin for the shell. The leather is left silky smooth and malleable after this treatment before it is cross-stitched with padding to produce the trademark quilted finish - a touch which Coco Chanel took the inspiration from stable boys' jackets.

    Inside the bag are the well thought out features that have helped make it a perennial favourite, the lipstick-sized pocket and a secret pocket designed to keep change for tips in. More aesthetically pleasing elements are added with the embossing of the foil label that bears the legend 'Chanel - Made In France', and fixing the gold-plated double-C clasp into position.

    The deluxe handbag reaches its final stage at 'assemblage', where the edges are neatened and carefully glued down, zips are attached, and the distinctive shape of the 2.55 is achieved with the help of a small hammer.

    Assemblage is the most critical stage of the production in making sure the handbags meet Chanel's high standards, and the tasks are carried out by four women with 80 years of handbag-making experience between them. Not just anyone can do this job, says Trippe.

    "It's very difficult to make the 2.55, and the employees who do so need to have at least five years of experience first."

    Lagerfeld, who has been at the helm of Chanel for over 20 years, knows that the 2.55 lies at the very foundations of the fashion house's reputation.

    "The Chanel bag is iconic because every woman wants to wear it and that's been the case for years," he has said.

    "It has been designed to be as practical as it is beautiful. It is timeless for every woman and all ages."

    Just 100 of the new limited edition 2.55 are to become available in the UK, and Chanel are staying tight-lipped on the total number worldwide. But there can be no doubt that well-heeled ladies across the globe will be clamouring for this latest status symbol, and Lagerfeld's assessment looks likely to remain true for another 50 years.
    I LOVE IT!
    thanks for those pics!!!
    rare to see chanel in production!!!
  8. Very neat!
  9. wow thanks i love the red flap. but they are so hard to come by.

    why cant they make it a perm color
  10. thanks for sharing, very interesting!
  11. Wow. So interesting. Thanks.
  12. Oh wow those pictures are aweeesome! I wonder if those workers get to keep some of the bags for themselves hehehe.
  13. a fascinating insight, wonderful to see and read!
  14. thanks spiral, I always wondered how the 2.55 classic was made. Thank you so much for sharing..
  15. I wonder how one can get a tour of the factory?